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Jul 8, 2019

Could Lab-Grown Brains Develop Consciousness?

Posted by in category: neuroscience

There’s a very un-sexy view of consciousness: our rich, meaningful inner experience of self and other is nothing but electrical and chemical chattering inside our brains.

If you, like many scientists, subscribe to this theory, then a difficult question naturally follows: at what point does electro-chemical activity in dissected brain-like tissue become conscious? Yes, I’m talking about the classic sci-fi “brain in a vat” scenario; no, we are absolutely not there.

But this week, a Japan-led study in Stem Cell Reports is raising some serious red flags. For the first time, a team carefully characterized the electrical chattering of neurons grown from a brain organoid and found that they spontaneously formed long-distance connections that allowed them to fire in synchrony. “Fire together; wire together” is a fundamental testament of learning in neuroscience. Because neurons in lab-grown minibrains can sync up their activity, analogous to how neurons hook up in our brains, it’s possible that the brain nuggets have the capability to support higher cognitive functions when they’re more mature.

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